Last night I took my first improv class. Due to a jacked up combo of nerves, adrenaline, embarrassment, and allergies, I came home from class and did not sleep. At all. Okay, an hour or so, but that does not count. At all.
Thank goodness it worked out for Mark to drive me everywhere today, because Miss Daisy here is unsafe at any speed. Thank goodness it also worked out that Mark likes lunch as much as I do, because he drove me by the taco place. Unfortunately, my lack of sleep means I have a pastiness going on, along with dirty-ish hair, and now, thanks to the lunch stop, I smell like tacos.
For those of you having trouble following along at home, I survived my first improv class, but now I look awful and smell funny.
Improv, it turns out, is exactly as terrifying as you might expect. We were encouraged to be okay with failure, and taught to gleefully throw our arms over our heads, exclaiming, “I failed!” any time we screwed up. I think I tore a rotator cuff.
My apologies to the woman I had to link arms with during one exercise; I know my flop sweats did not remain contained to my own hands and arms. I can’t promise it will be the last time I sweat on you. I also know that I’m supposed to remember your name, woman I sweat upon, especially after we played the name game, complete with catchy signs to help us associate everyone’s name. All I remember is a moose-horn-like signal to go with your name, but I’m betting your mama did not name you Bullwinkle.
Lest you think it was all mortification, I did actually enjoy myself. I laughed a lot. In one game I died with such conviction that I hurt my knee, smashing it on the floor as I crumpled to my death. Why did I die? Because I couldn’t come up with the name of a board game, so the entire class was required to shout, “DIE!” at me. See, I told you it was fun!
For those of you still having trouble following along at home, I signed up for improv to work through some creative road blocks. My friend, Carol, an amazing story-teller, and I are on this journey together. We exchanged a few horrified glances last night, but we’re both committed to seeing this through. And we’re both committed to focusing on the fun, rather than the terror. Our instructor promises that the fun-to-terror ratio will swing in favor of fun very soon.
So, what you’re probably dying to know (just play along), is if, after this one class, I think signing up was the right move. And the answer… right after this break.
Just kidding. I don’t have any commercial sponsors.
The answer is yes. This is going to be good for my writing (something you’re probably extra thankful for, after this taco-fueled ramble). Improv is about getting out of your own way, and being spontaneous. It’s about flexibility of the mind (although based on all the arm-throwing, floor-diving-death, etc., some physicial flexibility helps).
Yesterday I read a great article that someone posted on Facebook. (I think Amy posted the link – I’m just too tired to dig through my FB feed to find out for sure.) I do still have the article bookmarked, though, so I’m able to at least share that with you: Drunk Monkeys Wrote My First Draft: The Art of Finishing a Book — A Guest post by author Jessica Brody on Swoon Reads.
I’ll let you read the whole thing, but wanted to share this passage:
You type a paragraph, maybe two. Then, with a hopeful smile you read back through and discover that it’s… it’s…
Verified word vomit. The most dreadful thing you’ve ever read. Drunk monkeys could have written something more inspired.
Ms. Brody goes on to give fantastic advice for writers facing the blank page. My overall takeaway from the piece? Stop locking up the drunk monkeys. Let them out to do their thing, no matter how awful.
I struggle with this when write. I spend a lot of time – too much time – self-editing as I go along, and before I know it I’m exhausted from fighting a battle within my own head. Worse, I have little to show for all this battling, because I stop myself from simply getting the first draft on paper. I don’t let the drunk monkeys out to play.
The improv instructor told us it’s not unusual to see your reaction to life, or to work, in your reaction to the games and scenes we did in class. Sure enough, I quickly recognized the parallels in my writing and improv. I do a lot of hemming and hawing. I’m stuck, looking for the right sound to go with my imaginary sound ball (for real), instead of being spontaneous and sending that invisible ball zipping through the air with a ping-zwap!
I think it’s time for me to embrace my inner drunk monkeys. Wish us luck, me and the monkeys, won’t you?